Friday, October 29, 2010

Quick and Easy Halloween Treats

   Halloween is probably the best day of the year.  Dressing up is a life long hobby that I have been practicing for 20+ years.  And I am getting pretty damn good at it, if I do say so myself.  The last few years have held some amazingly epic Halloween parties.  This is the first year we are truly attempting Halloween-themed food.  We have the themed drinks down, but the food has proved difficult in themeing for adults.  Of course, what adult doesn't like some kiddie type food every now and then?  These are two of the menu items for our party this year.  One is more "adult" in flavor and one is a childhood favorite (with a little bit of an adult twist.)

Roasted Red Pepper Cheese Eyeballs
12 oz softened cream cheese
1 C grated white cheddar
1 C grated parmesan (at least 1/2 C needs to be the in-a-can kind)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 roasted red pepper, very thinly sliced and patted dry
1 C crushed walnuts
large black olives, thinly sliced into circles
capers

   Thoroughly mix cheeses and garlic.  Fold in the roasted red pepper strips.  (You can buy these jarred in the grocery store.  Check near the olives.  Capers will be in the same section.)
   On a piece of plastic wrap.  Drop half the mixture down the center.  Roll up with plastic wrap and form into a log about 1-1 1/2 in. in diameter.  Put in freezer for 5 minutes.  Do this to the other half too.
   Spread half the walnuts on a clean piece of plastic wrap.  Unwrap cheese log.  Roll in walnuts.  Rewrap and store in refrigerator.  This can be done up to 3 days in advance.
   Before serving, pop logs in freezer for 10 min.  Use a very sharp knife to cut slices.  Top with one slice of olive and place a caper in the center for a loose interpretation of an eyeball.
   Serve with crackers or toast.
   (For smaller gatherings, cut recipe in half.)

 
No-Bake Cookie Spiders
2 C sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 C milk
4 Tbsp dark cocoa powder
1 Tbsp instant espresso
1 C peanut butter
1 Tbsp vanilla
3 C oats
thin stick pretzels
white chocolate chips

   In a large pot, melt butter.  Add sugar, milk, cocoa, and espresso.  Bring to a boil.  Boil for 1 min.  Remove from heat.  Stir in peanut butter and vanilla.  When peanut butter is melted, fold in oats.
   Drop onto wax paper, about 1 Tbsp sized.  Stick pretzels in the sides of dollops for legs and put on two white chocolate chips for eyes.  (This needs to be done very quickly because the batter sets up fast!  This is easiest if you have at least one extra pair of hands in the kitchen.)  Snap pretzels in half for shorter legs.
   Makes about 3 dozen.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thai Coconut Soup

  There is a Japanese/Thai restaurant in Murfreesboro, TN that has a fantastic spicy coconut soup.  When I was in North Carolina my husband would talk about this soup for days at a time and complain about the lack of decent Asian joints near us.  One day, I got fed up with it and decided I was going to try to make a similar soup.  You can use regular or light coconut milk for this recipe.  What ever you personally like.  I use regular coconut milk from the Hispanic section as opposed to the Asian section.  For some reason the Hispanic brands coconut milks have less fat than the Asian brands.     
     Asian regular:  14 g
     Asian light:  4.5 g
     Hispanic regular:  9 g (some brands have 11 g)
I think the 9 g of fat gives the best balance of flavor and texture.
BE AWARE:  coconut water and creme de coconut are DIFFERENT than coconut milk

Thai Coconut Soup
5 C water
1 serrano chili, halved (optional)
1 lemon, halved
1 lime, halved
2-3 green onions, cut into 3 in sections
1-2 inches of ginger, sliced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 Tbsp lemongrass puree
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 can (~14 oz) coconut milk
1 1/2 Tbsp red curry paste
1 Tbsp honey
2 tsp sriracha (It's hot!  Go light at first and adjust to taste.)
8 oz udon noodles (follow cooking instructions on package)
4 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced (reconstituted if dried)
Chopped cilantro
chopped green onions

   In a large pot, add water, chili, lemon, lime, green onions, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and vinegar.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to medium heat.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove 1 half of lemon and 1 half of lime (to prevent bitterness).  Simmer for another 15-20 minutes.  Liquid will reduce by about 1/4.
   Strain broth through a mesh sieve.  Return liquid to pot.  Add coconut milk, curry paste, honey and sriracha.  Whisk to make sure curry paste is fully incorporated.  Heat through.
   Add shitakes and udon noodles.  Heat for a few more minutes.  Serve.  Top with as much cilantro and green onions as you want.
   Serves 4-6.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lemongrass Chicken with Peanut Sauce

   Peanut sauce may be one of the best things ever.  I have literally eaten an entire bowl of it by myself.  There is probably some chemical reaction that when the ingredients are mixed in proper proportions, it becomes highly addictive.  For our Thai night dinner (after carving some amazing pumpkins!) we were having Thai Coconut soup.  While that is enough food, something else would make it feel more like a mini-feast.  So we decided on this dish.  I had brought lemongrass puree (available in the refrigerated produce section near the packaged herbs) for the soup, and the chicken evolved out of that.  The chicken is really good and only has a a few ingredients.  The peanut sauce has more ingredients, but the only cooking involved is stirring.

Lemongrass Chicken
1-1 1/2 lb chicken breast
1 Tbsp lemongrass puree
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

   Slice the chicken into bite sized chunks or strips.  Liberally salt and pepper
   Mix lemongrass, vinegar, and oil together.  In an oven-proof baking dish, coat chicken with marinade.  Allow to marinate for 1 hr to overnight.
   Bake at 400 deg F for 10-15 minutes, until chicken is cooked all the way through.
   Serves 4.

Peanut Dipping Sauce
1/2 C smooth peanut butter
1/3 C soy sauce (low sodium or regular, whichever you like)
1/4 C rice vinegar
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp sriracha (more or less depending on how much heat you want)
1 tsp lime juice
1/4 tsp  ground coriander
1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional)

   In a bowl, add peanut butter and soy sauce.  Using a fork or whisk, gently mix together until smooth.  Mix in the rest of the ingredients.  (If the peanut butter is really stiff, before any other ingredients are added, microwave for about 10 sec.  Until it has softened.)
   Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days.
   About 4 servings.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crawfish Stuffed Mushrooms Appetizer

   Crawfish are amazing.  Don't know what a crawfish is?  Ever heard of a Crayfish or a craw dad.... same thing.  However, they are not widely eaten outside of the deep south near the gulf where the swamps provide literally tons of these tasty little crustaceans each year.  Louisiana cooking is most famous for their use.  Crawfish boils are a community event.  When I was at LSU (let's not talk about the over all experience) there was a HUGE boil in the quad.  Some restaurants even discard their regular menus on certain nights and serve only boiled crawfish (with corn and potatoes, of course).  The tables are covered with newspaper and the whole pot is literally just dumped on to the table.  Think of it as the Southern equivalent to a New England clam bake.  This is a wonderful part of my childhood that I remember fondly, if not a little grossly (head sucking was beyond my kid-gut's comprehension.)
  picture from FoodNetwork.com

   Unfortunately this meal time phenomenon is not often found or experienced outside of Louisiana.  But I can get my crawfish fix when I need it.  Many large grocery stores carry peeled, cooked, frozen tails.  Look in the frozen seafood section.  Even my local Walmart has them.  Can't find them or don't want to order them (see link at the bottom of page)?  You can just as easily used chopped shrimp for this recipe.

Crawfish Stuffed Mushrooms 
6 oz crawfish tails, thawed if frozen
8 stuffing mushroom caps (3" diameter)
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 small green bell pepper, diced (1/4 of a large pepper)
1 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp thyme
2 tsp butter
2 tsp flour
1/3 C chicken or seafood stock
3/4-1 tsp Tony Chachere's (or any seasoning salt, or just salt and pepper)
Dash of hot sauce (to taste)
Parmesan cheese (optional)
oil

   In a tiny bit of oil, saute onion and bell pepper until soft (5 min.)  Add garlic, thyme, and Tony Chachere's.  Cook 1 min.  Melt in butter.  Add flour.  Stir constantly to avoid lumps.  Cook 2-3 minutes.  Add stock.  Stir constantly.  Mixture will thicken.  If it gets too gummy and thick, add a little more stock.  Add hot sauce and crawfish tails.
   Clean mushrooms.  Scrape gills out from the underside.  Even distribute filling between mushrooms.  Sprinkle a little bit of grated parmesan cheese over the top of each mushroom.  Place on a baking rack inside a roasting pan (this will catch all the liquid released from the mushrooms.)
   Bake 350 deg F for 15-20 min.
   Serves 4 (2 mushrooms for an appetizer)
Order Crawfish Here:
Louisiana Crawfish Co.
Kyle LeBlanc Crawfish Farm

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rosemary Mint Julep Pear Turnovers

   There is such a thing as being overly inspired.  The way these little pastries came about is crazy and comes from way too many sources.  But they are good!

   My friend, Sarina, said we should do a Disney Princess inspired dinner.  I thought it was a great idea but had no idea what to do.  I ran through the list of princesses in my head and couldn't settle on one.  Then I remembered seeing that The Princess and the Frog was available through Netflix Instant.  It is set in New Orleans/Southern Louisiana.  I know that food!  Done.  Crawfish stuffed mushrooms started the meal.  The lemon-thyme game hens and shrimp with stewed tomatoes over polenta comprised the main course. And rosemary mint julep pear turnovers rounded out the meal for dessert.

   Pies are popular in the south, especially fried pies.  I didn't want to fry them (but you could) so that is how the turnover came about.  Pears are in season-- pear turnover.  The mint julep portion evolved out of the mint that was already going into the pies and mint juleps, while most often associated with the Kentucky Derby, are an iconic Southern cocktail.  And the idea of rosemary mint... brace yourself, you are going to think I am insane... came from my shampoo.
   Yes: Suave Naturals Rosemary Mint.
   I may be the only person who smells her hair her just washed hair and thinks, "Hey, I should make this into a dessert!"

 
Rosemary Mint Julep Pear Turnovers
1 recipe single crust pie dough (below)
1/2 Tbsp butter
2 1/2 C diced pears
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 C bourbon
1-2 tsp flour
1 heaping tsp mint jelly or 1 1/2 tsp fresh mint
1 egg, beaten
extra sugar (raw sugar if you have it)

   Cook 2 C of the pears in melted butter with the sugar, salt, and rosemary.  The pears will being to break down after about 5 min.
   Add bourbon to center of pan.  Flambe (This link is a really good flambe demo video from Alton Brown.)  Cook mixture for about 5 more minutes (until the consistency of applesauce.)  Transfer to a bowl.  While the filling is still warm, add the mint jelly.  It will melt in.  (If using fresh mint, allow mixture to cool first, then stir in mint.)  Add a little bit of flour to thicken filling.  The amount of flour will vary depending on how much water was released from the pears.  Fold in uncooked 1/2 C of pears  Cool.
   Roll out pie dough to 1/4" thick.  Cut out 5" circles.  Place about 1 Tbsp of filling in the center of each circle.  Fold over.  Crimp edges with a fork.  Cut a small vent in the top.  Brush with egg.  Sprinkle with sugar.
   Bake 350 deg F for 20-25 min on a lined baking sheet.
   Makes about 10 turnovers.

Single Crust Pie Dough 
1 1/4 C flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 butter (diced and very cold!)
4-5 Tbsp ice cold water

Combine flour, sugar, and salt.  Add diced butter.  Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut butter into flour mixture until it resembles wet sand.  Add ice water (just the water, not the ice) 1 Tbsp at a time until dough just starts to come together. On a lightly floured surface, quickly knead dough (less than 1 minute.)  Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 min. (up to 2 weeks).
*You can use store bought pie dough.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lemon Thyme Roasted Game Hens

   I hate roasting chickens.  HATE it.  I have only ever made one attempt to roast an entire chicken in my life.  I was 14 and it was Mother's Day.  I wanted to make something really special.  At the time I was madly in love with Tyler Florence (Ok... I still kind of am....), I found his recipe for tarragon lemon roasted chicken.  Whole roasted chicken wasn't something we did in our house so I thought it was a great idea.  I think it would have turned out fine, except that I let my dad help.  He left it in the over longer that he should have because he didn't think the stated time was long enough.  I was showering and not there to prevent him from changing the timer.  Not to mention I was totally preoccupied with the other components of the meal.  Needless to say the white meat was dry... really dry.  That kind of dry where a single, tiny, lone bite will suck all the moisture out of your mouth and leave you feeling like the Mojave Desert for days after.  Then my dad had the gall to complain about it!  He complained about the acidity from the lemons, the slight licorice flavor or the tarragon, and the dryness.  I was mortified.  I haven't roasted another chicken since.

   However, about 5 years ago, I discovered the  wonders of Cornish Game Hens (sometimes called rock hens).  They are fantastic.  Don't let "game" scare you; there is no gaminess at all.  The meat tastes like a good chicken (as opposed to the hormone jacked, watered down chicken the US is used to.)  A normal game hen is 20-24 oz. and they are sold individually.  Usually they are right at $2.50 each.  Never seen a Cornish hen.... just look a little harder in your regular grocery store.  Obviously near the poultry, they are individually wrapped and usually frozen.  The last time I bought Cornish hens (last week....) I got them at Walmart.... seriously.  Because they are so small, they are very easy to roast whole.  Not to mention impressive.  The lemon thyme flavor is great because it is season neutral  and may be paired with a variety of cuisines like French, German, Cajun/Creole (which is what I did), American, and even Spanish.
Lemon Thyme Roasted Cornish Hens  
2 Cornish game hens, thawed if frozen
4 Tbsp butter, room temp
1 Tbsp dried thyme
zest of 1 large lemon (about 2 tsp)
lemon wedges
salt and pepper

   Mix butter, thyme, and lemon zest together.
   Liberally salt and pepper the hens.  Remember to do the cavity too.  Place a lemon wedge inside the cavity.
   Fold the wings of the hen underneath the bird.  They may fight a little, but just use gentle pressure to fold the first joint (wing tip) back and under.  Tie the legs together with a little bit of kitchen twine.  Or you can fully truss the hens.
   Smear the butter mixture over the hens.  Use a finger to separate the skin from the breast to create a pocket.  Smear the butter inside that pocket.
   Place on a roasting rack in a pan.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 1 hr to 1 hr 15 min, until the juice between the thigh joint and the main body runs clear.  Let rest for about 10 min.  Serve.  (Carved into 4 pieces each: breast/wing and thigh/leg)
   Serves 4
 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bourbon Peach Bread Pudding

   This was my first foray into making bread pudding.  Yeah, I know... I live in the South and am in love with the South but have never made bread pudding.  There are quite a few Southern things I have not made:  fried chicken, sweet potato casserole, fresh green beans that have been boiled to straight to hell....  But bread pudding can be checked off the Southern dishes I want to make.  I knew the texture was going to be much softer than my preference, but I was really excited about the flavors!

   For our New Orleans night, we needed a dessert to compliment the gumbo.  So I searched through our rather extensive collection of Louisiana cook books.  In The Ox Bow Carriage House Restaurant (the on-site restaurant for The Myrtles Plantation) cook book, I came across Peach Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce.  I took the idea and adapted it to a much easier version where you don't have to bother with a sauce.  I used bourbon instead of rum because when I was in the liquor store, it just sounded good.
Bourbon Peach Bread Pudding
6 C cubed bread, 1 inch pieces (french bread is best)
1 C milk
1/2 C heavy cream
1/2 C bourbon (or rum)*
2 eggs
1 C brown sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 tsp almond extract
2 tsp cinnamon
4 C chopped peaches, 1 inch pieces**
1/2 C raisins
1/4 C raw sugar (optional)

   Cut bread 1 day in advance and spread it on a baking sheet to dry out.  Or cut bread the day of and lightly toast in the oven at 300 deg F for 5 minutes.
   Mix milk, cream and bourbon in a large bowl.  Soak the bread cubes in the mixture for about 10 minutes (or however long it takes you to finish the following steps.)
   Whisk together eggs, sugar, extracts, and cinnamon.
   Combine egg mixture, peaches, raisins, and soaked bread.  Spread into a greased baking dish.
   Bake at 325 deg F for 1 hr. 15 min.  Halfway through baking, sprinkle the top with raw sugar for a little texture on top.
   Serves 8.
* If you want to make it liquor-free, replace alcohol with additional cream.
**Fresh peaches are best, but if they are out of season or don't look too great in the store, use thawed frozen peaches. 

Photos by Heather Clemons Photography!!! <3

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

White Chicken Chili

   It is chili season.  The weather is cool, the leaves are turning, and every night there is some sort of sporting event (if you are into that kind of thing.)  There are very few things as welcoming or comforting on a crisp fall evening than a huge pot of chili.  While the old beef standby is delightful, it can get a little boring after awhile.  This is an easy way to mix up dinner without having to learn some new, fancy technique.

White Chicken Chili
1 lb white meat chicken (ground or diced)
3 slices bacon, chopped
1 med onion, diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 C chicken broth
2 14oz cans Great Northern beans
1 4oz can chopped green chiles
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp coriander
1 C grated pepper jack cheese
salt and pepper

   Render bacon in a large pot.  When bacon is about halfway rendered, add onions.  Saute 5-7 minutes, until bacon is fully rendered and onions are soft.  Add chicken.  Lightly salt and pepper.  Brown.  Stir in garlic, cook about 1 minute.
   Add broth, beans, chiles and spices.  Bring to boil, reduce to simmer.  Simmer 15-20 minutes.
   Stir in cheese a few minutes before serving.  Stir briskly and constantly while adding cheese to ensure it melts smoothly into the soup.
  Serve and top with your favorite chili toppings.
  Serves 4-6.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bacon Wrapped and Stuffed Pork

  This dish literally started off as a joke.  My friend and were talking about how bacon would be really good in dish we were eating.  But bacon makes everything better!  Bacon is a miracle food that everyone loves.  So much so that even vegetarians pretend to eat.  (I do NOT recommend soy bacon aka Fakon.....)  With a couple drinks in us, we started formulating bacon wrapped ravioli, which turned into bacon stuffed ravioli, then bacon stuffed chicken, and finally concluded with bacon stuffed chicken that is then wrapped in bacon.  I knew I had to make it for the sheer ridiculousness of the idea.

   When it came time to cook, we had a pork tenderloin that needed to be used, but the same thing could be done with chicken, no problem.  I think I like the idea of pork for this dish better than chicken though because it is porcine explosion worthy of Emeril Lagasse or Michael Symon.

Note:  We did not have as much bacon as I thought when I made this dish, so there should be more bacon wrapped around the tenderloin.  Also, don't mess this up with cheap bacon.  Get some nice meaty stuff!  And a butcher should be able to butterfly the tenderloin for you if you can't/don't want to do it yourself.
Bacon Wrapped and Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
1 lb pork tenderloin, butterflied
7-8 slices bacon
5 oz frozen chopped spinach (thawed and excess water squeezed out)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
salt and pepper

   Lightly pound butterflied tenderloin if it is not already even in thickness.  Salt and pepper both sides.
   Chop and render 4 of the bacon slices over medium heat until crispy.  Quickly stir in garlic making sure not to burn it.  Toss in spinach.  Spread mixture over the pork.  Roll up pork.  Wrap with 3-4 slices of bacon.  Try to get the ends of the bacon to meet where the seam of the pork roll is.  Secure with toothpicks.
   Sear pork evenly on all sides.  (In a little bit of oil, if needed.)  Place pork on a roasting rack in a pan.
   Bake at 400 deg F for 25-35 min, turning over half way through cooking.  (Time is dependent on thickness of roll... 25-30 min is a good starting point.  Mine took exactly 30 min and was perfect!)
   Serves 4.  Roasted butternut squash soup is a great side for this. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tacos y Mariscos Lopez

   I've put off this post for a little bit because I didn't really know where it fit in.  Also, I have been trying to find information online about these 2 taco stands, but there is none to be found.  Apparently, people are not finding it necessary to to give accurate addresses on permanently rooted hole in the wall taco joints.  Most taco stands/trucks in the Nolensville Rd. area of Nashville are of the "Lopez" variety.  (I believe they have 7 locations.)  The two we went to fall into that category, but since each place has it's own cooks, the fine tuning and grace of each dish varies from place to place.

   I have a new found joy of taco trucks. I know, I know.  I am a little late to the game, but I have come to the conclusion that I would very much like to own a (slightly) upscale taco truck (fleet???) one day.  After I have worked for awhile, my husband has settled into police work, and our future children are slightly older, of course.  Although, raising a child in a food truck may not be the worst thing.  And once I have totally mastered Spanish. (Fingers crossed that I get Rosetta Stone for Christmas!  Mom:  If you are reading, this is a HINT!)  I have my business plan pretty much laid out, but that is for another time.

   A couple weeks ago, my younger brother took me to his two favorite stands.  He lived in the Nolensville Rd. area for two years, so he is much better acquainted with Nashville's "Little Mexico" than I am.  The first place we went was Tacos y Mariscos: El Amigo (or Lopez #6). It is in a converted gas station at the corner of Nolensville Pk. and Elysian Fields Rd.  The kitchen is set up behind the counter and there are counter seats plus a few tables crammed into the little space.  Storage is in the walk in cooler area.  And currently they are building a rather beautiful exotic wood patio to expand seating.  The effect is kitschy and resourceful.  English is very limited but the waitress has no problem just asking you to point to the menu item.  I was unprepared to order, but looked up to the menu board and the first thing I saw was "Lengua".
   Tongue.
   I wanted to try it at the Celebration of Cultures, but they were out.  This was my chance!  The waitress looked at me like I was crazy.  Whatever.  As soon as it came, I took just a second to snap a picture before devouring it!  It was so good.  The meat was cooked perfectly:  melt in your mouth tender.  And the flavor is like the best pot roast you have ever had.  Incredibly beefy and robust, but without the cumbersome heaviness of real pot roast (which I really don't like).  I can't believe we don't eat more tongue!!! Unless time is the issue we are considering.  The mouthfeel and flavor of tongue are widely appealing.  And when sliced or cubed, the "tongue-factor" is unidentifiable.
   The second place was Tacos y Mariscos: Lopez (#???)  I can not find this place online.  It is on Nolensville Rd. near the intersection with Old Hickory Blvd in the Tusculum area.  There is a truck (kitchen) in front of a tiny brick building.  You can order directly from the truck or sit down in the building's "dining room" just behind.  The closest landmark I can think of is Auto Latino (that place is pretty sketchy.)  We shared a chorizo burrito because they are HUGE, and for $6, a steal.  Perfectly spicy fresh chorizo and a dead-on ratio of meat to other filling.  The only draw back was that the flour tortilla was a bit tough and therefore hard to eat (cutting or tearing into it with your teeth.)  I don't think this is a regular occurrence, though. 
   Get out and try those tiny little Mexican and Latin places.  The people are nice, and while the location may be a tad run down, it is always clean.  Plus, that's where you can find some amazing (and cheap) food!  And maybe let me know about them.... I need to really get on this taco truck research wagon.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

  This is one of the best new things I have made in quite a while!  Seriously.  Yes, people are often biased towards their own cooking, but occasionally you are totally blown away by something.  Nothing wildly original or terribly creative, but so, sooo good!  It is smooth, rich, creamy, and healthy.  The soup overall has very little fat and cholesterol, has a decent amount of vitamin C, and is overloaded with vitamin A.  A great comforting pick-me-up on a chilly fall day that won't make you feel guilty.  I am going to be stalking the local farmer's markets for the best squashes in the coming weeks.
 
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
1 med butternut squash; peeled, deseeded, and cubed (1" pieces)
2 med carrots, peeled and chopped (roughly 1" pieces)
1 med onion, largely chopped
2 lrg cloves garlic, in natural paper
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper
3-4 C vegetable or chicken stock
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp thyme
2 Tbsp light cream cheese (omit for vegan option)
6 lrg crimini or button mushrooms, sliced (optional)

   In a roasting pan, place squash, carrots, onion, and garlic.  (All pieces should be roughly equal in size, no need to separate onion layers if they stick.)  Coat with olive oil.  Liberally sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake at 350 deg F for 1 hr to 1 hr 15 min. (Vegetables may be roasted 1 day ahead.)
   Cool slightly.  Remove paper from garlic cloves.  Place in food processor or blender.  Add 1-2 C stock.  Puree until smooth.  (Amount of stock will vary depending on the power of your appliance.  An immersion blender will work too; do that in a deep sided pot.)
   Pour puree into a pot.  Add more stock until desired thickness is reached.  Add cumin and thyme.  Heat over medium.  5-10 minutes before serving whisk in cream cheese.  (The body and texture the cream cheese add is really fantastic!)
   OPTIONAL:  Heat a small amount of oil in a skillet over med-high.  Add sliced mushrooms.  Caramelize.  Use to top soup.

Serves 4.  (But you may want to make a double batch... esp you are feeding some big eaters!  And it is great left over.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo

  Going with our themed nights, after our Italian Dinner, we had a New Orleans night.  My friend Chase brought us a muffaletta from Jason's Deli (an awesome sandwich, though not terribly authentic).  We made gumbo and a pretty stellar bourbon peach bread pudding (recipe to come in the near future!)  Gumbo is really easy once you get the technique down... and really, the only technique is making a proper roux.
   A proper roux is a thing of beauty.  For my gumbo, I use a "peanut butter" roux.  All that means is that it is the color of peanut butter.  It thickens the broth and adds a wonderful depth of flavor.  You can use premade roux if it is available near you (which it isn't in TN, as far as I know), but it is simply butter and flour (or butter, oil and flour).  You can't get much cheaper than that.  Also, it isn't hard to make.  It just takes time.
The pan in the upper left corner is a peanut butter roux.
The large pan is what your vegetables will look like with the worcestershire sauce.
 
Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo
1 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 C flour
1 med. onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 lrg stalks celery, diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/4 C worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce (optional)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
6 C water
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning (or any seasoning salt)
2 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
1/8 tsp cayenne
12 oz smoked turkey sausage (1 package), cut into half moon shapes
12 oz-1 lb peeled, deveined raw shrimp (thawed if purchased frozen)

   In a small pan over med-low heat, melt butter into oil.  Add flour, whisk constantly to avoid lumps and burning.  Cook until it is about the color of peanut butter.  This will take roughly 20 min, but can be done ahead of time and cooled.
   Heat a little oil over medium heat in a large soup pot.  Cook onion, pepper, and celery (You can use a bag of the frozen mix, if you can find it.) until everything is very tender.  It will take 15-20 minutes (same time as the roux, so you can stir both at the same time!)  Add garlic, worcestershire, and soy sauce. Stir quickly for 1 min so as not to burn anything.  Add water and roux; whisk quickly to avoid lumps.  Add spices, lemon juice, and sausage.  Simmer for at least 30 minutes.  Stirring occasionally.
   Stir in shrimp 5-7 minutes before serving.  Cook through.
   Serve over rice.  Top with Tabasco and filĂ©, if you like. 
   Serves 6.
 Pictures of finished Gumbo by Heather Clemons Photography!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blackened Fish Tacos

   If you've never had fish tacos I'm sure you are making the same face everyone makes before they eat them for the first time.  It's that "What are you on? Fish tacos?!?!" scrunched up incredulous face.  The first time I heard of fish tacos, I thought my mom was screwing with my head.  I envisioned a cheap Tex-Mex taco with ground beef that had been replaced with ground mystery fish.  I was so wrong.

   The first time I had fish tacos was in Costa Rica at a little road side bungalow in the Guanacaste province.  The side of the building had a brightly painted mural of tropical birds (the "dining room" was simply a covered patio).  I don't think this place actually had a name.  I'm pretty sure "Comida" was just painted on a found piece of plywood then stuck by the road (which happened to be an unfortunate trail of the Pan-American highway).  But the food was incredible.  Fresh, local, and uncomplicated.  The fish was mahi-mahi and it was lightly battered and deep fried until tender and crispy topped with shredded carrots and cabbage, pico de gallo, and crema.  The freshly made corn tortillas were the ultimate wrapping for this perfect little concoction.

   It is weird to think that this moment of revelation occurred almost 8 years ago.  It seems like yesterday and to this day I can not get enough fish tacos.  While I hate to admit it, this is a meal where I will truly pig out.  This is one variation that we make at home.

Blackened Fish Tacos 
1 lb tilapia, fillets cut in half (roughly equal oblong portions)
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 Tbsp blackening seasoning (amount is estimated)*
2 tsp oil or butter
about 8 corn tortillas (1 for each piece of fish)
1 recipe cilantro lime slaw (below)

   Brush fish pieces with melted butter.  Sprinkle liberally with blackening seasoning.  Do this for each side.  Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Cook fish for 3-4 minutes a side.  (Will vary depending on actual thickness of fish.)  DO NOT move fish once it is in the pan.  If you move it, the proper blackened crust will not form!
TIP:  If you have to cook fish in batches,  slightly under-cook fish and place cooked pieces on a baking rack on a tray and keep warm in the oven.  They will continue to cook a little.
   Spread tortillas on a baking sheet.  Place in 300 deg F oven for about 3 minutes, until warmed and pliable.  Serve fish in tortillas and top with slaw and/or fresh salsa.
Serves 4.
 *You can find blackening seasoning at any grocery store in the spice aisle and/or near the seafood counter.  Chef Paul Prudhomme's Blackend Redfish Magic is my absolute favorite.

Cilantro Lime Slaw
2 C shredded cabbage or cole slaw mix
1/3 C light sour cream 
1/4 C fresh lime juice (~2 limes)1/4 C chopped cilantro
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion (1/4 of a medium sliced onion)
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp minced garlic
salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients.  Salt and pepper to taste.  (Sugar may also be added to taste.)  Let stand at roomte temp for 15 minutes to let everything marry or make ahead, cover, and keep in refigerator.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Black Bean and Hominy Soup

   This is a seriously easy one pot wonder.  And it was an adventure to make.  This is one of those things that I had the idea for it and started cooking before I had my process fully planned out.  The end result was incredibly tasty though!  It was tasting weird for a while until the exceedingly (almost stupidly) simple idea of tomatoes came up.  Why wasn't that in my game plan to begin with?  Tomatoes balanced everything and added that little bit of much needed acid.  This is a great vegetarian soup and a meal on it's own, but if you really want some meat, a little bit of chorizo or smoked sausage would be delicious. (*All the canned items are standard 14 oz cans)

Black Bean and Hominy Soup
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 can hominy, drained
1 can black beans, with liquid
1 can tomatoes, with liquid
1 1/2-2 C vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp turmeric (optional)
Oil, salt, pepper

Over medium heat, saute onions and peppers in a little bit of oil until tender.  Add canned  items, stock, bay and spices.  Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips, hot sauce, cheese... whatever you like.
Serves 4.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Veggie Stuffed Peppers

  I realize there that so far my recipe mix here is lacking in vegetarian main dish options.  I apologize for that.  We usually have too much meat in our house because my father will buy things simply for the fact that it is on sale.  Often I am trying to figure out how to use 2 pounds of pork or 3 giant chicken breasts before their "expiration" date.  (I don't pay too much attention to those dates because it varies so much.  My dad on the other hand......)  I love vegetarian meals.  Usually you just feel better after them, especially when you have some sort of meat the other 6 nights of the week.  These stuffed pepper are one of my favorite things to eat and make.  Packed with vegetables and rice, they are really healthy and super hearty.  It is a complete meal in a neat little package.  And it is a total make ahead dish; assemble up to three days in advance and bake it right before dinner*.

 
Veggie Stuffed Peppers
4 large bell peppers, roasted (any color, I like green for this)**
1 small onion, diced
1 med zucchini, diced
1 large carrot, diced
4-5 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 C rice, cooked (yield ~4 C cooked rice)
1 C grated cheese (cheddar or monterrey jack, leave out for a totally vegan dish)
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika (optional)
1/2 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp cayenne (optional)
zest of 1/2 lime
salt, pepper, oil
Sauce:
1--8 oz can tomato sauce
zest of 1/2 lime
juice of 1 lime
1/8 tsp cayenne or 1 tsp chipotle puree
--Combine ingredients.  (Double the recipe if you like it really saucy!)

TIP:  Roasting Peppers:  Set a rack close to the top of the oven (but don't let peppers touch the elements) and broil until skin is black and bubbly looking.  It will only take a few minutes a side.  Make sure the skin is evenly charred.  From oven, immediately place in a deep bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  This will create steam and separate the skin from the flesh.  Let cool, peel off skin.  For this recipe, halve and take out seeds.

   Heat a little bit of oil in a large skillet over medium/med-high heat.  Saute carrots and onions for 5 min.  Add zucchini and mushrooms.  Salt and pepper.  Cook until everything is tender (but not mushy). Toss in jalapenos and garlic.  Remove from heat, let cool slightly.
   Combine vegetable mix with rice, 3/4 C cheese (reserve 1/4 C for top), spices, and lime zest.  Salt and pepper to taste.
   In a greased baking dish, place in pepper halves.  Stuff with rice and veggie mixture.  Top with sauce.
Bake 350 deg F for 15 minutes.
Top with the reserved 1/4 C cheese.  Bake another 10-15 minutes.
4 main dish serving or 8 side dish servings

 *If previously assembled and refrigerated, add 10 minutes to initial bake time.  If sauce and cheese are already on peppers, bake covered for the first 25-30 min.  Then bake uncovered for 10 min.

**If you don't want to roast the peppers, bake covered for 35-40 minutes and uncovered for 10-15 minutes.  Texture will be different because peppers started baking at a raw state.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Roatan: Vintage Pearl Restaurant and Wine Cellar

   This post (as well as some up upcoming ones) is going to be a little different than other posts.  I'm placing the "Eat Here" label on them just in case you happen to find yourself in these wonderful places.  Since I was 13, my mom and I have been going on trips together.  Just us; dad and brother at home.  They don't appreciate travelling the way we do.  The last family vacation we went on, my dad and brother wanted to sit in the hotel room and watch TV.  And on our one and only visit to Orlando, FL, we had to trick my brother into going to Magic Kingdom. (We told him we were going out for breakfast.)  Needless to say, it is much more pleasant without them.

   Five years ago, we went to Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras.  I fell in love.  The diving is what we initially went for, and it is breathtaking!  The water is clear blue, the sand is white, the people are friendly, and there is some really good food.  We have returned for each vacation since then.  It is easy to get to, and for a Caribbean getaway, very affordable!  Every year is fantastic, the diving is consistently beautiful, and Bananarama is a great dive shop and eco-resort with wonderful, experienced staffers.  We can't stay anywhere else on Roatan now.  Over the years, I have met so many amazing people that will remain in my heart forever.
 
   On our first visit, we were a little disappointed that there wasn't a lot of Caribbean or Latin food.  The cuisine is all over the place, but there are some really great finds.  In the 2 years between our first trip and second trip, Vintage Pearl Restaurant and Wine Cellar opened.  In their first year of business I promised the owner I would write a review on Trip Adviser... which I did, even if it did take me a couple years....  But now I am featuring them here!
 Front entrance to Vintage Pearl

   I am not lying when I say this is my favorite restaurant in the world.  It is unassumingly elegant.  But you don't have to wear shoes!  No shoes is always a bonus for me.  The cozy, inviting atmosphere features an astonishing wine list and what I will call a French-light menu.  My mom and I love wine (and food).  So a nice four course meal with a beautiful bottle of wine is an indulgence we allow ourselves at least twice every time we go to Roatan.  (And I think it may be the only place on Roatan to get a really, really good bottle.)  The food is definitely inspired by the decadent French bistro classics, but is less oppressive and pairs nicely with the tropical climate.  The menu changes daily based on availability to ensure that the food is fresh.  (It's also a good business plan to keep people coming back again and again!)  Everything is top-notch quality.  Simply but impeccably prepared.

   Vintage Pearl introduced to me to the wonders of Kobe beef.  The meat is rich and tender beyond belief!  Also, I had my first- and, well, only- escargot here.  Despite the black flesh, they are sweet and succulent.  The seafood is local, which may be the best part because I can not get enough spiny lobster!  I like Maine lobster, but I prefer spiny.  It isn't quite as sweet, but the tail is super meaty and juicy.  The flavor is a cross between Maine lobster and prawns.  And then there is the bread pudding with guava rum sauce.  This is the absolute perfect dessert in all of creation!  I know there are eternal debates on "light and airy" or "dense and custardy" when it comes to bread pudding, but this sealed the deal for me:  dense and custardy.  It's not too sweet or dry or gummy.  It is smooth and evenly baked and topped perfectly with the guava rum sauce (two things I can't resist!)  Of all the food I've had there, the only thing that didn't quite measure up was the creme brule.  The flavor was spot on, but the texture of the dish as a whole was off.  I know that creme brule is hard to get just right.  If that is the one thing that isn't flawless, that is fine by me.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bleu Cheese Beefalo Burgers with Horseradish Sauce

   Beefalo?  Yes.  Beefalo.  It sounds like a crazy fantasy animal, but they are real!  Beefalo are fertile hybrids of American beef cattle (5/8 parts) and American bison (3/8 parts).  In middle Tennessee, if you happen to be driving down 96 and pass the wholesale and retail C&F Meat Co., you'll see what look like cows on some serious steroids.  Those are beefalo.
   The meat is moderately low in fat and cholesterol, about a third the amount in regular beef, and much lower in saturated fat.  Obviously, high in protein and iron, beefalo is also very high in vitamin B12 (more than 100% DV!)  While bison does taste slightly different than beef, the flavor of beefalo is pretty much the same.  Personally, I find that it tastes more like beef than beef if we are considering the ground meat.  I find that ground beef can have a tinny taste because of the extra blood many butchers add into the meat to make it that nice, bright red.  (For more information on beefalo, visit the sites at the bottom of the post.)

   This recipe is really easy.  Ridiculously easy in fact and kind of neat because you are stuffing a burger.  (I can't claim this technique as original... I think Rachael Ray was the pioneer of stuffing burgers.)  The same process can be done with any ground meat.  And the horseradish sauce is great for a variety of dishes.

Bleu Cheese Beefalo Burgers
1 lb ground beefalo
4 oz bleu cheese, crumbled*
~1 Tbsp steak grill seasoning

   Divide meat into four equal portions.  Divide each of those in half.  For each burger, press the two portions of meat into equal sized patties.  These patties will be very thin, be careful not to break them or have any holes.  Place 1 oz of cheese in the center of 4 patties, leave a small border.  Place another patty on top and press the edges together to seal.  Sprinkle each side with grill seasoning or just salt and pepper.
   Grill over direct medium heat for 5 min a side.
OR
   Heat a small amount of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook 4-5 min per side.
   Serve on your favorite bun with horseradish sauce and baby spinach.  4 Servings.


Horseradish Sauce
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp deli style or stone ground mustard
2-3 tsp horseradish (the real grated kind, not the pre-made sauce)

Combine all ingredients.  About 4 servings.


More Information and Where to Order/Buy Beefalo:
American Beefalo Association
Beefalo Meats
Nebraska's Finest
C & F Meat Co. (Does not ship; Mid TN retail location)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Carmelized Onion, Fig, And Goat Cheese Spread

   This is a recipe that I have been wanting to try for a very long time.  The first time I made the fig and chipotle stuffed pork I was left with with quite a few left over dried figs.  As much as I like figs, there are only so many plain dried figs you can eat.  I started looking for different things to do with figs.  I'll admit, I didn't even read the original recipe for this, I just read the title.  It took me so long to make this because for awhile, I entertained the notion of making it into a quiche-like tart.  The spread is WAY easier.

   Earlier this week, my friends and I had nice fancy little Italian dinner.  I made this spread, although it is pretty much cuisine neutral and would be great for a Spanish, American, or Italian table.  It is great warm but it is still good once it cools down to room temperature. 

   Also, the pictures are going to be a treat today because my beautiful friend Heather happens to be an effing amazing photographer!  I snap a simple little photo with my crappy 4.1 megapixel dinosaur of a camera.  She took a lot of pictures and chose the best ones.  So while this may be the easiest recipe I've posted, the pictures are going to be the best!  Please visit her website to see some of her other work, including some crazy pictures of Yours Truly (and maybe even hire her for your next event!)

 
Carmelized Onion, Fig, and Goat Cheese Spread
1 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, thinly sliced or roughly chopped
1/2 C roughly chopped dried figs (6-8 whole)
1/4 C marsala wine (optional) 
3 oz cream cheese
4-5 oz goat cheese

   Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Saute onions until golden brown and sweet.  This will take about 15 minutes.  Toss in figs and marsala.  Cook together about 1 minute.  Set aside.
   Cream the cheeses together.  Mix in onions and figs.  Spread into a small baking dish. 
   Bake at 350 deg F for 10-15 minutes.  Serve with bread or crackers. 


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chicken Saltimbocca with Marsala Sauce

   Last week my cousin and her wonderful husband stopped at our house for a night on their cross-country road trip out to California.  (Which they are blogging about at Cali Roadtrip)  Because of every one's crazy schedules I hadn't seen her in way too long.  It was amazing to catch up and (finally!) meet her husband.  Obviously, we had to do some huge meal.  We made chicken saltimbocca, parmesan roasted asparagus, simple penne w/ tomato sauce, and carrot cake.

   Saltimbocca is traditionally made with veal.  But I don't eat veal, and chicken is much less expensive.  Proportions for this really depend on how many people you are feeding.  For the filling items, add as much or as little as you want so long as you can still fold the chicken around it.  The amount of sauce made in the following recipe is for 4-6 servings.


Chicken Saltimbocca
4 medium sized chicken breasts (no monsters!)*
1 tsp ground sage
1 C fresh baby spinach, stems removed
4 slices prosciutto
4 slices fresh mozzarella
flour
oil, salt & pepper
2 Tbsp butter
1 C Marsala wine
2 C beef stock
1 C canned tomatoes, drained (about 1/2 a can)
(at least 8 toothpicks)

   Place a piece of wax paper, parchment, or plastic wrap over the chicken.  Using a meat mallet, pound chicken breasts until they are evenly 1/2 inch thick.  Take care not to shred the chicken.  (*Chicken cutlets can be used too, pound to even out the thickness.  Amount of filling may vary with cutlets.)  Salt and pepper both sides of chicken.  On the side that will become the inside of the saltimbocca, sprinkle with sage.  Lay a piece of prosciutto over each breast.  On one half, place spinach and mozzarella.  Fold chicken over the filling.  Secure with toothpicks.
   In a large skillet, melt 1 Tbsp butter over medium-high heat with a little bit of oil (maybe 1 tsp).  Dredge chicken in flour and brown on each side.  Remove from skillet.
   Add Marsala, stock and tomatoes.  Bring to boil and make sure to scrape off any bits left on the bottom of the pan from cooking the chicken.  Reduce by about 1/4.  Return chicken to pan.  Simmer for 10 min.  Turn chicken over, cover, simmer until cooked through--about 15 more minutes.

TIP:  Don't have a meat mallet?  Use a heavy skillet.  Small cast iron skillets work great for pounding out meat.  To use a skillet most effectively this way, drop it straight down and when it hits meat, push away from you.  It is one fluid movement.  Think about making a U with the movement (not and L).  This ensures a more even thickness, and you (hopefully) wont have bits of raw meat exploding all over your chicken.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Grilled Potatoes w/ Chipotle-Lime Sour Cream

   Ok, maybe I'm cheating a little here because this isn't so much a recipe as it is an idea or a technique.  Over the summer, I was looking through the grilling cookbook I bought for my husband last Christmas and came across "Grilled Potato Steaks".  Sounds awesome.  I had never had a grilled potato before.  It is so easy and definitely a break from the ordinary.  Since tailgating season is upon us, I thought I would share this now because these potatoes are a fantastic alternative to potato salad or chips.  I like them with just sour cream and crumbled bacon or with chipotle- lime sour cream (which is great on SO many things, not just potatoes), but you can literally top them with whatever you want:  cheese, onions, creamed spinach..... anything.

Grilled Potatoes
   Thoroughly wash enough potatoes for the crowd you are feeding.  Plan on about 1 large potato per person.  On the long axis, cut off a tiny bit of the skin in order to expose the flesh.  Slice long ways into 1/2 inch slices.  Place potato slices in cold, salted water that covers potatoes by about 1 inch.  Bring to a boil.  Boil for about 15 minutes, until potatoes are just barely fork tender.  Remove and pat dry.  (This step can be done up to 24 hrs ahead.)
   Brush potatoes with oil.  Salt and pepper them.  Grill on direct medium heat for 5 min a side.  Serve.

Chipotle-Lime Sour Cream
1/2 C light sour cream
1 tsp chipotle puree (1 small chipotle minced)
zest of half a lime
juice of 1 lime
salt

Combine all ingredients.  Roughly 4 servings.
This really good on the potatoes, as a dressing for cole slaw, on quesadillas, with vegetables.  Try it on everything!  After the first time you make it, you may want to keep a bowl on hand at all times.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pipian

  I was skimming through my mother's cookbooks the other day and picked up the first edition of The Betty Crocker International Cookbook.  It was funny reading some of the horribly outdated recipes.  For example, the use of monosodium glutamate (MSG) in many of the Chinese recipes.  My favorite reference that shows the age of the book is in the into to chicken kiev which says, "Kiev is one of the premier cities in the Soviet Union...."  While some of the things are good for a laugh, there are a lot of great recipes in the book.  Many of which are classic to a cuisine but have fallen out of style or were never even in style (in America).

   If you haven't figure it out by now, I am hugely influenced by Latin and Caribbean food and flavors.  So when I saw the recipe for pipian sauce I had to make it.  Pipian is a traditional Mexican sauce normally served over roasted meat or enchiladas.  You could probably even serve it with some good, crusty bread on a buffet.  This is my variation of pipian.  I used the sesame seeds because they are easier to find, but the pepitas are traditional

Pork Chops with Pipian
1/3 C sesame seeds or pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
4 boneless pork chops, 1" thick
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 C tomato sauce (one 8oz can)
1 C water
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp smoked paprika (or 1 tsp cumin)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp clove
1/8 tsp cayenne
lime wedges
cilantro, salt, pepper, oil

In a large, deep, dry skillet toast the sesame seeds or pepitas.  (If you are using pepitas, get the unroasted variety.)  Remove from skillet and let cool.  Using a mortar and pestle or a small food processor, crush the toasted seeds.  ( I like a mixture of totally pulverized seeds and mostly whole ones.)
Heat about 2 tsp of oil over medium-high heat in the skillet.  Salt and pepper the pork chops.  Sear both sides.  Do not cook all the way through.  Remove from skillet.
Saute onions for a few minutes.  Add garlic, tomato sauce, water and spices.  Simmer for about 10 min, or until reduced by about 1/3.  Fold in crushed, toasted seeds.  Return pork chops.  Cover and turn heat down to medium.  Simmer until pork is cooked.  This should take about 15 minutes, but may vary depending on thickness of the cut.
Top with fresh chopped cilantro and a lime wedge.  The acid from the lime is really delicious!
*The same process may be done with chicken.  If you want to make just the sauce to put on top of whatever you like, follow the same process, but when you add the seeds, leave it uncovered and let it reduce until it is about 1/2 of the starting point.  Add 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice at the very end.  If the sauce gets too thick at any point, or you simply want it thinner, add a little bit of stock, tomato juice, or water.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Celebration of Cultures

   Yesterday, my best friend, Sarina, and I went to Nashville's 15th annual Celebration of Cultures held by the Scarritt-Bennett Center at Centennial Park.  I can't believe I had never been to this festival before.  It is so beautiful and sends such an important and powerful message to the Nashville community.  Being in the heart of the South and home to country music, Nashville catches a lot of crap about racism, segregation, and being very, very white.  This is very far from the truth (excluding recent mosque troubles in Murfreesboro, which is the due to the presence of a few simple bigots.)  Nashville is an open and loving city.  Even in the recent economic crisis, Nashville is blossoming into a wonderful--dare I say it?--melting pot of ethnic diversity.  The premier hospitals and corporate US headquarters of foreign companies have attracted people from all over the world to Nashville and the surrounding areas.  And with new people comes new food.

   After the parking ordeal at noon (probably the worst time to arrive.)  The first thing we did after finding each other was head straight to Las Paletas' booth.  My favorite treat spot in Nashville.  I'll go more into detail on them later.  I had the raspberry-lime, Sarina had the coconut, Sarah has the hibiscus (my absolute favorite!), and her friend, Barb, had the strawberry-banana.  No matter the flavor or color of their ice-pop, everyone holding a Las Paletas paleta looked to be in frozen heaven.

   As we licked and munched our way through our desserts, we roamed around pondering what to eat for lunch.  I first got in line for Abay, an Ethiopian restaurant I have wanted to try for awhile.  Then I saw the stall next to it, Flava Catering, had goat curry.  But then Sarina came up, stared at me and said two words, "Taco Trucks".

   There were two taco trucks parked.  We went to both.  At the Murfreesboro based Mexiven, we tried the fish tacos, chicken tacos, and chicken tamale.  Everything was delicious, but there were some things that could be improved.  While the masa was soft, moist and wonderful, there was just too much of it compared to the meat.  The fish was crisp, golden and salty, but the slaw was way too sweet for the taco.  Also, after looking them up, I can't be sure if the truck is a normal part of their establishment, or something for special occasions.  But like I said, the food is good; they are worth a try!
 My half eaten chicken tamale from Mexiven
Mexiven's Fish Taco

   We also ate at the simply named "Tex Mex Tequeria".  Located on Charlotte Pike in Nashville, there is a regular restaurant and full-time truck with these guys.  I really wanted to try the lengua (tongue) taco, but at 12:45 pm they were sold out.  I assume this mean that they know how to do their tongue right and underestimated the number of people who would be buying it.  It also means that there is a going to be trip involved to their regular local.  Instead we tried the chicken and chorizo tacos.  Unbelievable.  That's all I have to say.  Fresh, smokey, spicy, well-balanced, perfect tacos. If I have one complaint, it's that I only ordered one.
Our dug-into tacos

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Most Amazing Carrot Cake

   I love making carrot cake.  My hands and the white counter tops turn orange.  There are bits of shredded carrot everywhere.  It gives my a chance to make my favorite frosting of all time:  clove spiced cream cheese frosting.  And I allow myself to be tricked into thinking I am eating something genuinely healthy.  Actually, as far a cakes go, this recipe isn't too terrible for you.

Carrot Cake
4 eggs, beaten
1 C brown sugar (loosely packed)
3/4 C white sugar
3 C shredded carrot (loosely packed)
3/4 C unsweetened applesauce
1/2 C raisins (golden or regular)
2 tsp cinnamon(optional)
1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Combine eggs, applesauce, oil, and spices.  Mix in carrot and raisins.  Add sugars.  Fold in dry ingredients until well incorporated, make sure not to over mix.  Pour evenly into 2 greased cake pans (8 in or 9 in).
Bake at 350 deg F for 30-35 min, until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cool in pan for about 15 min before removing.  Cool completely.  Frost and decorate.

Clove Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting
16 oz light cream cheese (softened)
1 stick butter (softened)
1/2 C brown sugar
1 tsp ground clove

Beat together butter and cream cheese.  Add sugar and clove.  Beat until smooth.
*This is enough to completely frost the cake.  To cut back on calories and fat, reduce amounts by half and frost only between layers and on top (not the sides).  The half recipe is also probably enough for a batch of cupcakes.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Latin Herb Grilled Flat Iron Steak with Fruit Salsa

   A couple days ago I had the privilege of speaking to a high school culinary class.  It was a last minute thing, and I was sort of thrown into it.  I felt completely unprepared and scatter-brained, but I had so much fun!  It was so amazing to see kids excited about food and what I was talking about.  I asked for suggestions for what they would like to see on this blog.  This post is the first of those suggestions.  Or at least a modified version.  The request was for a mango salsa, but when I was at the grocery store, the mangoes didn't look too great.  So I made a pineapple salsa instead.  The great thing about this recipe is that you could easily use mango... or kiwi, or strawberries, or orange segments, or any combination of fruit.... experiment and have fun with it!  You could even leave out the fruit to have an awesome, simple fresh salsa.  The salsa I made is super chunky.  If you want to made something more conducive to dipping, just chop everything smaller.

Garlic Cilantro Marinade
1 C parsley, chopped
1/2 C cilantro, chopped
1/3 C olive oil
1/4 C lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
zest of 1 lime
salt and pepper

Combine ingredients.  Reserve 1/4 C of marinade for fruit salsa.  The amount of marinade that is left is enough for about 1 1/2 lbs of meat.  This marinade can literally be used for any type of meat:  steak, chicken, pork, even seafood.
Rub meat with marinade.  Let meat marinate for 30 min to overnight.  (Only let seafood marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour, no longer.)  Grill or broil meat until cooked.  For flat iron steak, grill for 8 minutes on each side for medium.

Pineapple Salsa
1/4 C of reserved garlic cilantro marinade
1/2 C chopped tomato
1/3 C chopped pineapple (or other tropical fruit, like mango)
1/4 C chopped onion
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)
salt and pepper

Combine ingredients.  Chop chunky or fine, depending on use.  Leave chunky to top meat or toss with a salad.  Chop finer for a dip to serve with tortilla chips.